Friday, March 11, 2011

EXTRA-TIME with Vusumuzi Mourinho Ndlovu -


High- flying pacesetters Orlando Pirates are scheduled to visit second placed Ajax Town Cape on the 16th of this month, in a potential decisive six-pointer which pits two great Dutch coaches. Rudolf Krol, who played a pivotal role in much revered Ajax Amsterdam’s “total football” side of the early 70s, has had his critics eat humble pie after steadying the Buccaneers’ ship and guiding it against all recent storms and sea waves. His counterpart, the experienced Foppe de Haan is credited for turning a youthful Ajax side into title contenders.

de Haan’s excellent work mirrors that of another great Dutchman: Bert van Marvijk who stirred the Orange machine to the World Cup finals. The 67 year old former Heerenveen coach was recently re-awarded when he won the February Coach of the Month Award. Pirates coach, Krol won the same award in January which testifies how good they have been.

A defender is his heydays when he captained Ajax Amsterdam and the Netherlands national team, Krol’s top priority has been safety first. As they say a good coach starts by shutting the back door, Pirates has been very difficult to breakdown this season. The Happy People have the best defensive record in the league and have been very impressive, especially on the road. They have hit the crucial half a century mark.

Bucs have collected the most points away from home and are the best travelers. The clash against the Urban Warriors is a mouth-watering tie as Ajax trail Bucs by a single point. Ajax have gathered the most points at home, winning their last 5 games at home, they have let in 5 goals in 11 games at home whilst the Bucs have conceded just 6 goals in 12 away games and managed draws against fellow contenders; Kaizer Chiefs and Bloemfontein Celtics.

In their last match, Bucs showed a lot of character and championship credentials when they held an unstoppable Celtics side in their Seisa Ramabodu fortress. I am eagerly waiting to observe whether Terror Fanteni will do a Sphelele Mthembu on Pirates again this week. Mthembu, who is on loan from Pirates combined with former Bucs winger Bennet Chenene to equalize and jeopardize Bucs’ title hopes. Pirates’ 16 match unbeaten run will be severely tested as Ajax are rampant on home ground winning 9 of their 11 game.

De Haan will leave no stone unturned in a bid to bag maximum points. He will need the experience of Hans Vonk, Brett Carelsee, and Brent Evans who has just reached a 300 game milestone with the Urban Warriors. Youngsters Thulani Hlatshwayo, Sameeg Doutie, George Maluleke and Khama Billiat reflect Ajax’s philosophy but their deadliest weapon is none other than Thulani Serero. Serero has the potential to reach Steven Pienaar’s standards. Having scored 9 league goals so far, Serero will be a top contender for the footballer of the year if the Urban Warriors manages to clinch the title.

This season Pirates were crowned MTN 8 Champions and came runners up in the Telkom Knockout and the Telkom Charity. They have had many excellent performers this season and amongst the top ghosts have been goal minder Moeneeb Josephs, and mobile defender Happy Jele. Andile Jali and Oupa Manyisa’s profiles rose dramatically when they dictated the pace against seasoned campaigners like Tinashe Nengomashe and Reneilwe Letsholonyane.

Katlego Mashego and Thulasizwe Mbuyane are danger men who cannot be left unattended to. They have notched in some very crucial goals and will be a constant threat to the Ajax rearguard. On his day Tlou Segolela can be a tricky customer to deal with he will give them a torrid time and a busy day in the office.

Krol led Egyptian club Zamalek when they won Africa’s most prestigious club trophy; the CAF Champions League in 1996. Foppe de Haan, a legendary Dutch coach guided the Netherlands U-21 side to successive UEFA European U-21 Football Championship in 2006 and 2007 spearheaded by Klaas-Jan Hunterlaar and Royston Drenthe. He was awarded the Order of Orange-Nassau in 2004 and was rewarded with the Rinus Michel award for his contribution spanning his entire career.

The Ghosts have had an upper hand over the Urban Warriors in recent games, especially in the league. Winning the first leg 3 – 0 and having beaten Ajax home and away last season, this may work for them psychologically but this may be a total different ball game. With their comebacks, Bucs have shown great resilience, they have shown mental strength, enthusiasm and hunger for success. Krol and his Sea Robbers will try all they can to grind out a result, consolidate their lead at the top but de Haan will dig deep to make sure Ajax stays in contention. Ajax will surely give them a run of their money.